Friday, November 28, 2008

Funny in French

I ran into an English friend, Matt Beer, the other day and asked how his French was coming along. Not so good, was the reply. It turns out that Matt, one of the funnier people I know, still finds it virtually impossible to be funny in French. Because I’m also one of the funnier people I know, I totally relate. I asked Matt to write a little something about that and here’s what he sent.

So the question remains--how does London’s greatest wit turn into Eygalières' village idiot and, perhaps more importantly, why was he so self-delusional in the first place?

The idiot is me and the question remains unanswered. Let me explain. I’ve now been living in France for over seven years and yet when it comes to speaking French--you know, the correct use of the past tense and pronunciation of the word “feuille”—I’m currently locked in an epic battle with my daughter’s pet hamster for the honorary title of “least conversant family member.”

When chatting away at a dinner party, once I’ve discussed how sunny it was yesterday, I’ve run out of conversation. Suffering from acute embarrassment, I invariably get nervous, over-react, bring up the issue of Vichy France and never get invited again.

The excuses? Well…

We only speak English at home--true except when the family want to verbally abuse me and speak in French.

I work solely with English-speaking clients--true except when the clients want to verbally abuse me and speak in French.

I have never been on a language course--true as I wanted to avoid the humiliation of being asked to redoubler.

I have absolutely no aptitude for languages--very true.

My wife has explained to me that when I listen to a song I hear the melody and not the words. She has the opposite problem. Sometimes we merge our skills, sing a song together and embarrass the kids. But, nevertheless, I do believe she has a point. I just don’t hear the language. Add in the Provencal accent and this particular Englishman is dead in the water.

So what to do? Answer--nothing. Just enjoy the hospitality offered to me by some wonderful French friends, never again mention Petain and try at the very least to keep up with the hamster.

Oh and for any French readers “Il faisait tres beau hier, n’est pas?”

Being a qualified divorce lawyer for 15 years, Matt Beer decided to divorce himself from reality and move from London to Provence. He continues to run a legal practice and is also a screenwriter for film and television. He lives in Eygalières with his wife, Annie, and their kids Zazie and Sam. He can be reached at: mattjbeer@hotmail.com.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monkey Business

Today on CNN, I saw a restaurant in northern Tokyo that's using monkeys as servers. They’ve been a huge hit with customers and, as one patron puts it, “they’re better waiters than some really bad human ones.” Since animal rights laws allow the two monkeys to work just two hours a day, the owner is training three new baby monkeys to join the staff. Actually, monkey workers might be a perfect solution for bar and café owners throughout France who, according to a story in yesterday’s New York Times, are having a terrible time staying afloat. It seems that the bad economy, high costs, drunk-driving crackdowns and smoking bans have put many French cafes in financial peril. I say employing monkeys as waiters here in Provence would save on payroll and provide a spot of entertainment as well. (Plus, they can’t sue for back wages, claim sexual harassment, go on strike or steal your recipes.) To see the monkeys do their thing, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeSQ5Rv7eH8
or here: http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/11/23/lah.jap.monkey.biz.cnn.
To read the piece in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/world/europe/23cafe.html?pagewanted=1&emc=eta1

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ONE GOOD DEED DESERVES...

When I first came to Provence and knew nary a soul, I posted a “looking for English-speakers in Provence” note on an expat bulletin board. I got lots of replies but only one person, Patricia Bachrach, really made an effort. We went on to become great friends, which would never have happened had she not reached out. And now that she’s trying to sell her house, posting it here is the least I can do to re-pay her for her warm and generous spirit. That, and she’ll give me a humongous finders’ fee if it sells...

Patricia Bachrach spent 15 years renovating her home in Maussane and filling it with her vast collection of antiques. Now she and her husband Alan have decided to downscale and have put their one-of-a-kind house on the market. The house was originally an 18th-century olive mill, many vestiges of which are still intact, and would make an ideal B&B, chambre d’hôte or cooking school. The 800-square-meter house has eight fully vaulted ceilings (12 to 14 feet), four bedrooms, three full baths, a stunning kitchen with a vast Brazilian-granite island, custom cabinetry, SMEG appliances, gas and electric cooktops, two ovens, two rotisserie spits and a wood-burning fireplace for making stews and other winter dishes. There’s a formal dining room with climate-controlled wine cave, family room, sitting room/library, office/den, indoor-outdoor pool and a separate one-bedroom guest house. A large two-story barn could be renovated. Many antiques, collectibles and a number of very high-end wines are for sale with the home. The house is on the village outskirts in the foothills of the Alpilles, surrounded by sheep farms, olive mills and apricot orchards. It’s just minutes from Les Baux and St. Remy, 20 minutes from Arles and 45minutes from Marseille. Asking price: €2.2 million. For info: pbprovence@aol.com, 04-90-54-50-94.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WAY TO GO, REM-DE-PRO!

There’s not one but two stories in my in-box this morning about the appeal of Provence for expats. The first one, on Forbes.com, is a bit astounding, actually: it calls St. Remy the second “most idyllic place to live” in all of Europe. First, the intro talks about how Europe has become affordable again for Americans: “Despite the global recession and slumping job market, the timing--and prices--might be just right,” the writers say. “Six months ago, Americans couldn't even mull a move across the Atlantic.” It goes on to say that despite the high price of real estate, Forbes’ panel of travel and relocation experts praised St. Remy for its “rolling vineyards, opportunities for hiking and walking and average conditions some of the best in Europe…” (Speaking of walking, however, am I the only one who’s noticed that St. Remy’s cracked pavement and potholes have reached epic proportions?) The #1 "most idyllic place in Europe," by the way, is Gaiole in Chianti. Go figure! Anyway, read the Forbes article here: http://www.forbes.com/realestate/2008/11/18/europe-homes-dollar-forbeslife-cx_po_1118realestate.html The second article, in the Daily Mail, says that despite a slowdown due to the pound’s decline against the euro—and high prices in general—quick (and eco-friendly) Eurostar service from St. Pancras to Avignon has been a huge boon to Brits wanting to vacation or settle in the area. The article encourages wanna-be home buyers to consider lesser-known regions (such as the Gard) and says that while Provençal farmhouses “have nearly all been renovated,” problems in the French wine industry have led to the sale of vineyards which, in turn, has freed up more land for building. Read the article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/article-1087273/Sur-le-pont-dans-le-train-Brits-buying-Avignon-getting-eco-friendly-Eurostar.html

Monday, November 17, 2008

Give a Laptop. Get a Laptop. Change the World...


Here’s a great holiday gift that will not only delight someone you love but also change the life of a needy child. One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is launching its second Give OneGet One (G1G1) program today. Here’s how it works. You buy a specially designed XO laptop for roughly $400 and OLPC will send two: one to you and one to an underprivileged child. Or, you can send one for just $200.

The non-profit OLPC was conceived by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte in 2002, after seeing first-hand how connected laptops transformed the lives of children and their families in a remote Cambodian village. A seed was planted: If every child in the world had access to a computer, what potential could be unlocked? What problems could be solved? These questions led him to found OLPC and the creation of the XO: a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop designed “for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.”

The XO is built especially for kids in remote areas and developing countries, many of whom have little or no access to education. About the size of a small textbook, it has built-in wireless and a screen that’s readable under direct sunlight for those who attend school outdoors. The laptops are durable and highly efficient, able to use solar, human, generator, wind or water power. In some cases, the laptop provides the brightest light source in a family’s home.

The laptops are marketed in large numbers directly to ministries of education, which distribute them like textbooks. Last year’s G1G1 program produced more than 150,000 XOs and allowed OLPC to give away thousands of them, in places like Ethiopia, Mongolia and Rwanda. Today there are hundreds of thousands of children using XOs every day, including over a quarter of all young students in Uruguay. Peru is distributing XOs to more than 10,000 schools.

The XO laptop is designed for kids aged six to 12. OLPC says it’s also a great gift for Western kids but cautions that it has no drive for DVDs or CDs “because kids in developing countries don’t have them.”

This year’s B1G1 program runs through Dec. 26th and is being handled through Amazon.com, which is providing their services at cost. For info: www.laptop.org. To order:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

DELIVERANCE

In New York, when you don't want to cook and don't want to go out, you order in. You phone the restaurant, struggle with someone's heavy accent, place your order and--voila!--a little man arrives on a bike or scooter with your chicken tikka masala or felafel or borscht or sesame noodles, packed up all nice and piping hot in a bag with a cardboard bottom. One gets spoiled and a bit lazy, you know? But now there are not one but two restaurants in St. Remy that deliver: La Cantina and Nostra Pizza. La Cantina, owned by the couple behind Bistrot Decouverte, offers a full Italian menu including antipasti, salads, carpaccio, bruschetta, pasta, pizzas, a plat du jour and desserts...at both lunch and dinner.Delivery is 5€. If you want to pick up or eat in, La Cantina is at 18 blvd. Victor Hugo. To order: 04-90-90-90-60. The more casual Nostra Pizza, with a tiny storefront at 24 Blvd. Victor Hugo, offers a wide range of pizzas, hot and cold sandwiches, good hamburgers, salads, savory and sweet paninis and three "menus" with a drink included. Delivery is 2€. To order: 04-90-92-58-83. Next, we hear St. Remy will be getting a Starbucks and a Gap. Joke.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

DEAL DU JOUR

The new owners of the four-star Hotel Les Ateliers de l’Image in St. Remy have created two great restaurant deals for the readers of Provence Post, both good until Dec. 14th. During the week, the three-course luncheon menu (25€) will be offered at the two-course price (19€, including one glass of wine). And on Thursday evenings, one person eats free. Yep—you can enjoy one prix-fixe dinner free (starter, main, cheese, dessert; 43€) for every one ordered (drinks excluded). To enjoy either promo, the hotel asks that you book ahead and mention The Provence Post. To reserve: 04-90-92-51-50. The hotel also continues to offer its popular buffet breakfast daily (19€ for non-guests), Sunday three-course lunch with aperitif (36€) and evening Sushi Bar (Tuesday through Saturday). Plus, they’ve just launched a new food menu in the lounge bar (open at 5 p.m.), where there’s a buy-one-get-one-free Happy Hour between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. nightly. A special six-course 55€ Gibier (Game) Menu will be offered in the restaurant on Nov. 21st. For more info, or to receive the hotel newsletter and invites to upcoming events, email: Philippe@hotelphoto.com.

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